The #EmptyShelf Challenge


Christian Blogger and Communicator Jon Acuff launched the #emptyshelf challenge last week. He want to encourage people to set up a visual reminder of what books they have read and hopes it will encourage them to read more. I was looking at what I wanted to do in 2014 and knew reading needed to be a better part of it. I had picked up my reading this year, but it is nowhere near the level I want it to be at.

I was a nerdy reader as a kid, plowing through Hardy Boys books and anything involving Bigfoot I could find. I kicked it back up in college when I started working in a book store. I continue to read now because I think reading is essential to moving forward. The moment anyone quits wanting to learn more, they shrivel up and die. They can’t grow and they can’t help others grow.

Forbes wrote a great piece about why leaders should be reading. It really shows how important reading is to anyone, not just CEO’s.

I am jumping headlong into the #emptyshelf project. I won’t bother you to much here about it. The instagram channel might fill up though! If you are wanting 2014 to be an awesome year, I highly encourage you to become part of the #emptyshelf community. All it takes is a book and a hashtag!

Guest Post: Matt Stout on Spiritual Renewal and Parenting

Matt is a good friend from seminary. He wrote and drew an amazing cartoon with a hilarious look on the seminary life. I am proud to own an autographed copy with a custom bigfoot sketch! He offers us some great words on spiritual renewal and parenting. If you are interested in guest posting, here is some information.


I’ve been reading Chad’s various blogs since we met in seminary, and have always found them to be helpful and uplifting.  However, there have been a few occasions when I’ve been reading about Chad’s life and routine and think, “It must be nice to be able to do that!”

 See, I have two wonderful daughters.  One is a toddler, and the other just learned how to crawl.  I love them so much, but to say they are a disruption to a disciplined spiritual life is an understatement.  I remember reading once on this blog about how nice it is to wake up in the early mornings and spend time with God and get some stuff done unencumbered by the business that comes up later in the day.  I can’t relate to that.  My girls wake up between 5:30 and 6:30 every morning, and for some reason they aren’t content if I get out my bible and pray at that time.  So, rather than an energizing burst of productivity, my early mornings are filled with cries of “I hungee” and trying my hardest to get my oldest to pee pee in the potty.  Some mornings their constant need for my attention can be draining before my day even really gets started.
I don’t say this to complain about my life, or to draw comparisons to Chad’s life.  My point here is to encourage people with kids, especially young kids, that there is spiritual renewal in the midst of these incredibly needy people we’re surrounded by.

Our kids don’t have to sap our spiritual energy, they can help us know God better.

Children Give Us An Opportunity To Deny Ourselves
Actually, they give us lots of opportunities to deny ourselves.  As much as we need to be refreshed spiritually, the overall trajectory of the Christian life is to give ourselves away for the sake of others.  There is no greater opportunity to practice this than parenthood.  Whether it’s giving up our mornings for an early riser, putting things at work on hold to go to a doctor’s appointment, or watching PBS Kids during your downtime instead of whatever Netflix show you’d rather watch; we get to put ourselves second a lot.  Sure, we can view this as a necessary evil or an annoying fact of life, but if we view it through the lens of Jesus I believe we can extend it to those outside our family too.  We can make laying down our lives for our kids a spiritual practice that helps us lay down our lives for others too.
Children Give Us Insight Into Ourselves
One of the big challenges in my house right now is trying to teach our toddler not to whine.  If she doesn’t get exactly what she wants when she wants it, she will whine about it.  So whining is a big no-no now around our house, but it’s opened my eyes to how whiny I can be to God.  It seems like any discomfort I experience, or any negative thing I feel, I complain about it to God.  After sending Ruthie to her room for whining the other day, I thought, “I ought to be grounded for the amount of whining I do to God.”  Relating to God as my heavenly Father has taken on a whole new dimension since I became a father myself.  It’s humbling to see how much like a toddler I am in my spiritual walk sometimes.
Children Force Us To Get Creative About Our Spiritual Lives
So, I can’t wake up at 6 AM and get my day started in the bible.  It doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be reading the bible anyway.  I just need to get creative.  I may schedule my first half-hour at work from some scripture reading and prayer in my office.  I can move my study time to after they go to bed.  I can read them a story from a children’s bible and talk about it.  (I don’t think anybody is above learning about God from a children’s bible.)  My prayer life has taken a hit since becoming a parent, but now I’m teaching my daughter to pray and it’s so rich.  Sometimes I sing hymns to my youngest to try to get her to nap, and that’s a time to enrich my faith as I instill a love for those old songs in her.  Getting creative and involving our kids in our spirituality is a benefit, not a hindrance.
All of this is to say: It’s easy to look at someone else’s life and think, “Sure, it’s easy for YOU to pray, but you don’t have to deal with the stuff I have to deal with!”  We all get caught in that kind of thinking sometimes.  But God gives us each different seasons, and no season lasts forever.  It’s our job to connect with God and to develop spiritual practices in whatever season of life we are in.  For those of us who are parents of young kids, thank God for them.  They’re teaching us and forming us.  Let’s pay attention to the ways it’s happening and join with God in the process.
Matt Stout is the Director of Student Ministries at College Place UMC in Brunswick, GA.  He’s married to a fantastic woman, has two daughters, and two dogs.  He’s a television enthusiast and an avid indoorsman.  Back when he used to have free time, he was an amateur cartoonist.  You can find some of his old cartooning work at